My Takeaways from NYT Amazon Controversy

The New York Times article titled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big
Ideas in a Bruising Workplace
” ignited a lot of debate over the weekend. One very interesting response came in the form of a rebuttal issued by an current Amazon employee, Nick Ciubotariu, who says the Times story is a “horribly misinformed piece of “journalism”.”

But my takeaways are not about the controversy itself but to what the debate says about managing a large talented workforce in the Tech industry.

The tech world is no different

Pushing workers to achieve higher productivity at lower cost is pretty much a management baseline. Better company cultures find ways to avoid this trap but it's there, in every person, fretting over how to get more for less.

The tech world is no different. Despite having a wealth of talent, an upward trending economy, and a responsibility in many ways for shaping our future, the tech industry does not shit gold. Therefore vigorous honest scrutiny should be welcome.

Values matter

Companies like Amazon are not built into a global technology giants so quickly without a meaningful set of guiding principles. Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos built the culture upon a set of Leadership Principles. Whichever source you’re listening to, these principles appear to actually reflect the culture at Amazon. So the question isn't whether they exist, it’s whether they are good or bad.

To that end one might look at Glassdoor, which compiles thousands of reviews from people who worked there, and see that 82% approve of the CEO and Culture and Values rate 3.2 out of 5. Compare that to other tech giants like Facebook. Yahoo. Google. Samsung. Apple. Microsoft. Amazon is at the far back of the pack.

This is a general gauge that implies the examples of a ruthless mean spirited drive towards greater success are perhaps the exception and not the rule. Should that matter? The article suggests that these examples are indicators of deeply misguided values.

Amazon’s goal is to make innovative products, please customers, and increase stock valuation. It is not to make every employee happy. Therefore Amazon’s culture is in line with its goals.

The question I begin to ask myself is, “what specific goal should we have for employee satisfaction and how high a priority is that relative to the other goals?”

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